18 January 2018Luke 5:12-16
“But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” (v. 16)
Psalm: Psalm 2:1-8
The theologians of the Early Church regarded Jesus’s miracles as proofs of his divinity. In John’s Gospel Jesus’ healings and other miracles are described as “signs” (eg John 2:11), but this is not the same as what those early theologians had in mind, and it is not how the healing of the leper is presented in Luke’s Gospel. In any case, miracle-workers were a fairly plentiful phenomenon in 1st-century Palestine, so we have to look for another way to understand what Jesus is doing in this encounter with the leper. The leper is ordered to go to the priest for official recognition that his leprosy is healed, but with the added instruction to tell no one about what has happened (verse 14). Jesus is not engaged in a publicity drive! Luke’s Gospel prefaces the report of Jesus’ growing fame with a ‘but’: “But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad” (v. 15). Jesus, in fact, actively withdraws into deserted places to avoid publicity. So what is motivating him?
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, we see Jesus forbidding the demons to tell people that he is “the Holy One of God” or “the Son of God” (Luke 4:34, 41). For the Jews ‘Son of God’ was a Messianic title, not a divine title. Jesus does not want the people to acclaim him as the Messiah. Even though John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus performing ‘signs’, John has essentially the same understanding as Luke. After the Gospel of John’s account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes (John 6:1-14) we read that Jesus withdrew up a mountain to avoid the crowd forcibly making him king, to enthrone him as Messiah (John 6:15). The clue to the meaning of Jesus’ miraculous acts is given in the story of the feeding of the 5,000. It is implied in Luke’s account but Mark’s Gospel states explicitly that Jesus feels compassion for the crowds (Mark 6:34). They are like sheep without a shepherd; they have followed him out into a deserted place and now have nothing to eat. Rowan Williams says that it as though Jesus can’t help performing miracles – they are a spontaneous expression of his compassion.
- Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper. In what ways are you called to stretch out and touch people and situations?
- How do you understand the miracles of Jesus?
- To what extent is Jesus’ practice of withdrawing “to deserted places” a model for your own relationship with the one Jesus calls ‘Abba’ (Dearest Father)?